Democrats call for $12B boost in State, USAID budget

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A handful of Democratic lawmakers are proposing a massive, $12 billion boost in the U.S. international affairs budget, money they say should go toward fighting climate change, preparing for pandemics and competing with China.

The initiative follows years of attempts by then-President Donald Trump to slash the budgets of government divisions such as the State Department by as much as a third. While Congress blocked Trump’s cuts, getting a $12 billion increase through a 50-50 Senate will be difficult given likely Republican resistance to more government spending.

Still, the lawmakers making the pitch — Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland; and Reps. Ami Bera of California and David Cicilline of Rhode Island — see it as a fortuitous time, especially considering the lessons the U.S. is learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They argue that it makes no sense to keep investing more money in the U.S. military while ignoring the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and similar programs.

“If this year has taught us anything, it’s that the biggest threats posed to our country really aren’t foreign armies,” Murphy said in a statement. “We must maintain the strongest military on the planet, but we have to get smarter about the national security challenges that can only be met with non-military solutions.”

The lawmakers are proposing raising the international affairs funding, which covers the State Department and USAID, to $68.7 billion from $56.6 billion, according to a copy of their plan.

To a large degree they are echoing arguments made by President Joe Biden and top officials about the need to rethink foreign policy priorities. The Biden administration in particular is concerned about being able to compete with the ambitious communist government in Beijing.

Cicilline stressed similar worries.

“Over the last decade, China has doubled its diplomatic budget and expanded its malign sphere of influence,” he said in a statement. “Our diplomats deserve a budget that meets their needs and allows them to do the critical work of keeping our country safe.“

The lawmakers are due to lay out more details about their proposal later Tuesday.

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